The scene is set for some drama at Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis.
Toronto FC has the first and third picks and is willing to deal to acquire some veteran talent.
“Our hope is that those two slots result in three or four players,” said Kevin Payne, Toronto’s president and GM. “We’ve had a lot of interest in the two slots so we’ll see what’s the best thing for the team.”
Toronto striker Eric Hassli reportedly wants out, according to the well-informed website soccerbyives.net but TFC may have problems dealing the tattooed Frenchman who made $790,000 last season. Hassli was close to former manager Paul Mariner, who was fired last week.
Chivas USA has the second pick in the draft and says it wants a Mexican-American, in keeping with its heritage. New coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola has already identified Connecticut midfielder Carlos Alvarez as his man.
Alavarez played high school soccer with Toronto FC midfielder Luis Silva.
With two picks each in the first round, the Vancouver Whitecaps (fifth and 10th) and Montreal Impact (eighth and 18th) could also make moves on the day.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact there isn’t a consensus No. 1 pick although Louisville defender Andrew Farrell has plenty of admirers. The depth of the draft is also up for debate, even if general managers are loathe to bad-mouth their talent pool.
“One of the differences probably right now between last year’s draft and this year’s draft is there was a lot of talk last year about the top two guys that were picked,” said New England GM Michael Burns, referring to Andrew Wenger (taken by Montreal first overall) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver). “And I’m not so sure that’s the case this year.”
“This year it’s wide open,” added Matt Jordan, Montreal’s director of soccer operations.
If Toronto accepts the Chivas-for-Alavarez move, it could trade the first overall pick for immediate help and still get a talented youngster with the third overall pick.
According to one MLS team official, the talent drops off after the first 10 or so in terms of players who can step in and provide instant help.
Still for Toronto’s Payne, every draft has its merits.
“It’s an unusual circumstance in soccer where you can get players for free basically and then you can build your team around them,” he said prior to heading to Florida to watch the MLS Combine.
“I don’t know how deep a draft it is,” he added. “From our point of view, it may be better if it’s not a deep draft because that makes the high picks more important.”
Payne has talked often of the need for character at the club, so mental skills will be valued as much as physical attributes.
Canadians may figure early in the draft.
Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker, a slick playmaker from Boston College, has turned heads at the combine and has moved up the draft ladder.
Oregon State forward Emery Welshman, also from Oakville and a teammate of Bekker at the Sigma FC club in nearby Mississauga, also earned kudos at the combine.
Michigan defender Kofi Opare of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Denver defender Drew Beckie of Regina were the other Canadians invited to the combine.
New England, which picks fourth, has talked about acquiring depth at defence and forward. Offence may get more attention since the Revolution ranked 14th in league scoring last season with 39 goals. And Honduran forward Jerry Bengston, who scored a hat trick in the 8-1 demolition of Canada in October, could be absent for stretches due to World Cup qualifying.
Indiana University’s Eriq Zavaleta is an interesting option. He can play both up front and at the back. Notre Dame’s Ryan Finlay is a goal-scorer. Furman’s Walter Zimmerman, who missed the combine through injury, is seen as a stud defender with great leadership qualities.
The 20-year-old Farrell is a favourite of many. A former defensive midfielder and right back, he moved to centre back his last two years at Louisville. He began playing soccer in Peru, where he lived from age five to his sophomore year in high school during his father’s Presbyterian mission trip.
Farrell is just five foot 11 and 165 pounds but scouts marvel at his athleticism and like his speed.
Teenage Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh has also drawn attention, although is likely to go further down.
Coach Martin Rennie said the Whitecaps have built a good foundation and are now looking to fill specific needs.
“Last year, we got Darren Mattocks, who became a very good player for us and, now, we think, can become a mainstay of our franchise,” he said of the speedy forward.
Rennie said Mattocks is a good example of someone who was the best player available and also filled a positional need.
“Going into this one, we do hope to find the best player available,” said Rennie. “But at the same time, if they’re not in a position that we need, it doesn’t really serve a purpose (to choose that player), because with five picks in the draft, you’re hoping to get a player who can start for you. So if you’ve got someone who’s an established starter in that position, it might not be a wise move to take that player.”
The last time the draft was in Indianapolis, in 2007, Toronto used the first pick in franchise history to take midfielder Maurice Edu from the University of Maryland first overall. Edu went on to play for Glasgow Rangers and Stoke City.